How the San Francisco Giants could utilize the new August trade rules

BOSTON, MA - JULY 20: Fernando Abad #58 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays during the sixth inning at Fenway Park on July 20, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 20: Fernando Abad #58 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays during the sixth inning at Fenway Park on July 20, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The depth of the San Francisco Giants bullpen has left some solid options in the minor leagues. That could present an interesting trade opportunity in August.

The San Francisco Giants figure to have a busy month of July, especially after the elimination of August waiver trades at the MLB level.

Back in March, an on-field agreement between MLB and the MLBPA was struck that brought with it a number of major rule changes, including shorter breaks between innings, reduced mound visits, a new approach to the All-Star Game voting, and the end of 40-man roster expansion in 2020.

However, the most important change for fans as the trade deadline approaches was the elimination of August waiver trades. That means that after July 31st, no team can receive anything in exchange for a major league player.

It will be interesting to see how this impacts action leading up to the deadline.

Just last season, the Giants traded Andrew McCutchen to the New York Yankees for a pair of prospects on August 30th. That deal would not have been allowed under the new rules.

Each year, a handful of notable players change hands in August.

It’s when the Houston Astros acquired Justin Verlander for their title run in 2017.

It’s also when perhaps the biggest trade of the decade went down, when the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, along with their hefty contracts, from the Boston Red Sox in 2012.

Now it’s no longer an option.

However, there is one exception. The new rules, just like the old ones, don’t apply to players on minor league contracts.

Normally, that wouldn’t really matter. After all, what seller would have a piece in the minor leagues that a contender would see as a potential big league contributor?

Turns out, the San Francisco Giants may have just the guy this year in Triple-A reliever Fernando Abad.

The 33-year-old has ample MLB experience. He’s played eight seasons at the MLB level, with his most recent big league action coming in 2017.

In 363 career appearances, he has posted a 3.65 ERA and 7.7 K/9. During the four-year span from 2014 to 2017, he averaged nearly 50 innings per season while pitching to a 3.09 ERA with a 2.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

However, in the slow-moving free-agent market leading up to the 2018 season, Abad struggled to find a home. Then, while still looking for work on the open market, he was hit with an 80-game suspension for a performance-enhancing substance.

The Giants signed him to a minor league deal in February and he began the season with their Double-A affiliate. After throwing six shutout innings for Richmond, Abad was quickly promoted to Triple-A Sacramento.

Pitching in the Pacific Coast League, where the ERA for the league as a whole remains above 5.00, Abad has been dominant.

In 24.1 innings, he has 31 strikeouts and just two walks, to go along with a pristine 1.85 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. If he had signed with almost any other team, he’d probably already be in the big leagues.

However, the bullpen is the one place on the San Francisco Giants roster that isn’t a complete wasteland. Even if they trade away Will Smith, Tony Watson, and Sam Dyson, there are other replacements waiting in the wings.

Rule 5 pick Travis Bergen is currently rehabbing, lefty Sam Selman has been a strikeout machine, and hard-throwing Ray Black is a member of the 40-man roster.

Furthermore, Abad will be a free agent again this offseason, so the Giants don’t really have a much of an incentive to give him innings that could go to someone with long-term control.

Perhaps most important of all, if Abad was promoted his contract would be converted to a major league deal, and he would no longer be eligible to be traded in August.

If the Giants leave him in the minors until August, teams that missed out on bullpen reinforcements at the deadline could look at Abad’s track record and Pacific Coast League dominance and view him as a potential upgrade.

The veteran won’t bring back any top-tier prospect talent, but it’s not out of the question to think they might be able to get back an intriguing raw prospect in rookie ball. That’s better than nothing for someone they expected to get nothing beyond minor league innings from when he was initially signed.

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So if you find yourself wondering why someone with Abad’s numbers is not among the first to receive a call-up once the sell-off begins and spots in the bullpen start opening up, recent changes to the trade deadline rules and an eye on a potential August trade just might be the reason.